Webcurios 10/05/24

Reading Time: 36 minutes

SUMMER HAS COME TO LONDON! Or, more accurately, it is not currently raining and that is good enough for me. I would imagine that you’re all excitedly preparing your spangly pants and protest songs in anticipation of Eurovision, so I will keep this intro short and encourage you to dive right in, as otherwise there’s no way you’ll be finished before all the besequinned caterwauling starts.

I am still Matt, this is still Web Curios, and you should probably stick a fiver on that Baby Lasagna song (according to someone I know who understands this stuff; I have no fcuking idea, obviously).

By Michelle Thompson (all images this week lifted from TIH, to whom thanks as ever)



  • Food For Fish: As regular and assiduous readers will of course know by now, I tend to keep the games and frivolous stuff to the end of Curios, as a sort of reward to you all for ploughing through the weird, unsettling and…more esoteric stuff in the front end (and, look, if all you do is skip to the end then that’s fine too. No, really it is. You consume this however you want, I’m not the boss of you, and, no, really, you *shouldn’t* feel guilty about ignoring all the other good stuff that I spend hours every week foraging JUST FOR YOU…this isn’t helping, is it? Right. Sorry), but I am making an exception this week, because Food For Fish is just BRILLIANT. This is a browser-based point-and-click game in the classic Lucasarts style – think Monkey Island, or Day of the Tentacle, or Sam & Max (hugely contemporary ludic references there! People under the age of 35 – does anyone under the age of 35 read this? I…I doubt it, I’ll be honest with you – google those titles, they are great and worth exploring), except done in what looks like claymation (but is just really nicely-rendered CG), and, honestly, this is fcuking BRILLIANT. You play as a nameless man, living a dull life, who embarks upon a strangely-underpant-fixated adventure under your gentle guidance – the interface is intuitive, and even if you’re not wholly familiar with this sort of game you’ll get the measure of it soon enough (but if you are, you’ll feel a genuine warm hit of nostalgia at the cursor that changes shape to connote the different actions you can take as you hover over an object, and the incidental observations elicited as you click on objects within the various rooms), and, honestly, this is funny and surreal and it even has a lovely piano soundtrack, and I promise you this is just a wonderful way of spending half an hour or so. Who is the main character? What happened to his grandfather? Why is he only wearing a pair of y-fronts, and why does ‘the agency’ want him to build an ‘underpant simulator’? And what is that strange rash on his torso, and the scar on his face all about? CLICK AND FIND OUT! Honestly, this is brilliant and all credit to Kris Temmerman, the Belgian(?) freelance dev who’s knocked this up as what I presume is a sort-of calling card – Kris, should you ever see this know that you have brought me GREAT JOY, so thankyou very much indeed.
  • Taper: If you’re a fan of the HTML Review (see Curios passim) then you will almost certainly also enjoy Taper, which despite having been an occasional thing for six years now I only came across this week. Taper self-describes as ‘an online literary magazine for small computational pieces’, published twice a year – the link takes you to the latest edition, for Spring 2024, but you can explore all the others through the site. Much like the HTML Review, Taper features a selection of…how would I describe this? Digital poems? Explorations of creative code? Slightly-wanky high-concept html-noodling? ALL OF THOSE THINGS! It’s worth setting aside 15 minutes and clicking through a selection of the different works that comprise the issue – there’s a nice range of styles and types of work, from this fun little ASCII flipbook maker which will let you make a short animation of yourself (or whatever you choose to hold up in front of your computer, tbh) using your webcam, to a sunrise poem, and all sorts of things inbetween. Small, odd moments of sometimes obscure, sometimes interesting digital creativity – this is a really nice mental palate-cleanser, should you require one (I can’t possibly think why).
  • Pressmaster AI: You will by now have either read enough about the coming (already here?) wave of what we are now apparently all deciding to call ‘AI slop’ (personally I preferred ‘dreck’, but what do I know? Rhetorical, as ever) which is sweeping the web – if you’re curious as to where it’s coming from, then look no further than services like ‘Pressmaster AI’, which, bizarrely, sells itself as an ‘AI Pr Service’, despite not actually doing ‘PR’ at all – instead, it’s a system which will let you generate a seemingly-infinite quantity of AI-written articles on any topic you like, publish them to the web automatically, and, if you pony up for the fee, publish said dreck through a selection of syndication channels (on reflection, that’s where the ‘PR’ comes in I suppose). Basically what this does is create a ‘digital newsroom’ (anyone who’s worked in PR for a while will have a faint frisson of horror at that phrase) full of terrible GPT-spawned ‘content’, which the service promises will (somehow) rank in Google news and as such deliver untold SEARCH BENEFITS – according to Pressmaster, they get around Google’s attempts to plug the flow of this crap by dint of the workflow, which requires you to basically sketch an outline of the points you want to make (either by dictation or a few notes) rather than just letting the AI go wild – I personally am…skeptical about whether this approach will in fact get you past the anti-machine filters, but the fact that you can basically pay to then have the outputs injected into the low-end feeds of Forbes, BusinessInsider and similar low-quality outlets does rather suggest where this is heading. To be clear, I think that this service is a grift and will not in fact do about 70% of what it says it will do – but, equally, the 30% that it will do will be enough to ensure that approximately 90% of all written material you find published online from…oooh, well, from about NOW actually!…will be exactly this sort of empty, meaningless, information-shaped-but-actually-value-bereft rubbish! GOOD TIMES! If you’d like to read a bit more about this, there’s an interesting longread about a company called Advon, who were behind Newsweek’s recent brush with AI content, here – this is all very US-focused at the moment, but you’d have to be some sort of mad optimist not to see this happening everywhere very soon indeed.
  • Meet Me At The Workers Club: Via Andy, this is another brilliant piece of digital work by the consistently-excellent Molleindustria – this time it’s a gorgeous interactive recreation ‘of Alexander Rodchenko’s Workers’ Club, originally exhibited at the 1925 World Expo in Paris. The virtual copy of the constructivist installation is accompanied by posters, photographs, and breezy texts tracing the historical context of workers’ clubs in the Soviet Union, as well as personal musings about the role of the artist in a time of revolution’. This is not only beautifully made, it’s a lovely way of doing a ‘virtual exhibition’ – small, not too much navigation, nicely-rendered in a way that doesn’t quite to ‘do’ photorealism, and full of interesting interactive bits to learn about – and, personally speaking, the little visual effect when you enter the exhibition and ‘step into the past’ (you’ll see what I mean) is really nicely done.
  • Who Funds Them?: One of those of you in the UK – unless any of the more international amongst you have a peculiar interest in the financial arrangements of UK parliamentarians – this is a project by transparency campaigning organisation MySociety, the people behind They Work For You (the service which provides an easily-accessible record of MPs’ voting history), which is seeking to create a comprehensive record of exactly which organisations and individuals provide funding to which politicians – both as individuals, and the slightly murkier world of All-Party Parliamentary Groups, which as anyone who’s ever worked in campaigning knows are very often simply a ‘cash for access’ project (HEAVEN FORFEND!). The project’s in its nascent stages and at present they are looking either for volunteers to help with the research or a small (£10) donation to help fund the work, and if you can spare a few hours a month (and you’re the sort of person for whom the idea of ‘poring through records and doing some data entry in pursuit of a better politics, which, fine, I appreciate isn’t everyone) then this might be worth a look.
  • Sleep Baseball: I slept DREADFULLY last night – you don’t need to know that, fine, but it might explain some of the dreadful writing that you’re going to experience over the course of what, for me at least, is going to be the next 5 hours or so – as of 743am, I am on my fifth cup of very strong tea and feel slightly like I’m coming down off some quite unpleasant base – but perhaps I should have eased myself into slumber with this most soporific of podcasts. I think this has been going for a while, but amazingly I don’t seem to have featured it before – Sleep Baseball is a series of recordings of full games of baseball, narrated in the gentle style, all of which are completely made-up, with fake teams and players and absolutely no jeopardy whatsoever, just the slow, North American cadence of batters and runners and pitchers and outs (I don’t really understand baseball, does it show?), each of which lasts over two hours and which, from a cursory listen, really is astonishingly soothing and pleasantly-dull, like a sort of sports-themed white noise. Of course, I can’t vouch for the fact that your dreams won’t be full of men spitting tobacco at their feet and making elaborate hand signals to the backstop (see previous comment re ‘not really understanding baseball), but that feels like a small price to pay for, you know, actually being asleep (oh god so tired might cry).
  • The AI Film Festival 2024: Lest it need repeating, AI-GENERATED VIDEO IS NOT READY YET! IT IS NOWHERE NEAR READY! DO NOT BELIEVE THE HYPE (YET)! Still, if you’d like to see the current ‘state of the art’ (we are not counting Sora, because until actual users get their hands on it it is vapourware in my eyes) then you could do worse than checking out this year’s entrants to Runway’s second AI Film Festival – I think the winners were announced at a ceremony last night, but at the time of writing they haven’t updated the site yet. Still, scroll down and you can click the various floating thumbnails to see the entries – I personally don’t find this stuff interesting anymore, partly because of my general lack of interest in the moving image and partly because I have seen a LOT of this stuff over the past couple of years and I am quite sick of the very particular aesthetic and flickery animation that all this stuff inevitably has, but if you’re curious about what is ACTUALLY possible with this kit right now then it’s worth a look (as is this, by Starburst, which is a rare example of an advert using GenAI which…works, I think).
  • Explores UK: Seeing as we’ve been talking a lot of late about AI-generate imagery flooding social media, I thought I’d share a particular example that has been polluting my personal digital ecosystem this week. Explores UK is a Facebook Page (look, there are Groups I find useful, don’t judge me) which has appeared EVERY SINGLE TIME I have opened the webpage this week (I don’t have any of this sh1t on my phone, what do you take me for?) and which is pumping out a frightening quantity of images of BEAUTIFUL LONDON for its audience to ‘enjoy’. Except, as you will discern from clicking and having a quick scroll, this is not a London which anyone familiar with the city would recognise – partly because all the landmarks seem to have moved around, but mostly because all the buses (it LOVES London buses) are going to destinations like ‘Whiiite6 Coi07idy’ or have number plates that read as if you’re currently having a stroke, and the buses themselves…ok, have to admit, the buses look FCUKING COOL, as though the concept car designers at Maranello had been given a massive budget by Sadiq and told to go wild. The comments are a mixture of obvious bots, the occasional confused old person and people shouting ‘AI SPAM’ – WELCOME TO THE FUTURE OF THE SOCIAL WEB, EVERYONE! A warning, by the way – if you use Facebook and you click on this page while logged in, this sh1t will follow you EVERYWHERE.
  • TraxMachine: Are you a MILLENNIAL? Did you grow up online in the safe, welcoming, isometric haven that was Habbo Hotel? Do you have fond memories of the synthtoy that you could access from within the game, and wish that someone had recreated it in-browser so that you could go back to those halcyon days when all you had to worry about was how you were going to decorate your virtual room and whether that boy/girl/other was going to log on or not this afternoon? If so, this is very much your lucky day.
  • AFG Collection: More AI (sorry!), this is a TikTok Page which shares videos of fake history – I feel ok sharing it though because, honestly, if anyone’s going to be taken in by Kodachromes purporting to be from Ancient Egypt then they probably have a wider set of problems and this really is the least of their worries. I think these are all made in Midjourney, judging by the lighting and overall aesthetic, and I was surprised by how interesting I found these odd counterfactual imaginings, which are presented as the photographic records of time travellers returning from the past (time travellers who presumably set off in the 1950s, judging by the photo stock they seem to be using).
  • Great Brandlines: Via my friend Rishi, and one for the copywriters and advermarketingprdrones amongst you, this is a really nicely-designed site pulled together by the Frankly Fluent agency – the idea is to explore the thinking behind some of the world’s biggest brands’ most famous taglines, in part by showing how…wrong, weird and worse they are if you get the words just a little bit wrong. I rather enjoyed hearing the stories behind ‘Just Do It’, ‘Finger Lickin’ Good’ and the like (of course, KEEN STUDENTS of this sort of stuff will know all of this already, but well, maybe you should get out more? I appreciate the intense hypocrisy of that sentence written by a man who writes 10,000 words a week about ‘stuff on the web’, but, well, I embrace it), but my favourite thing about this is the interface (which, fine, isn’t particularly exciting, but is simple and just WORKS).
  • Training The Robots With AI: Via Shardcore, I thought this was interesting – this is a short video posted to Reddit, looking at the success that’s been had using a GPT to train a robot. It’s short, don’t worry, and it’s not complicated – this is more something that made me think about whether we’ve possibly underestimated the extent to which The Machines can do physical, real-world stuff without in fact needing ‘embodiment’ at all.
  • KCTV Now: ANOTHER TikTok (please don’t make me give them their own section, I really don’t want to), this time dedicated solely to sharing clips from North Korean state TV. To be clear, this really is North Korean propaganda – the videos are a mixture of clips showing THE GLORY OF THE SUPREME LEADER AND HIS VISIONARY IDEALS FOR BENEFIT POPULACE and some not-hugely-subtle anti-Western messaging, currently mostly focused on the US’s less-than-sparkling role in the current messin the Middle East – and I take no responsibility whatsoever to what might happen to your FYP should you spend six minutes consuming this stuff, but it’s a really interesting look at how one of the world’s maddest nations (once upon a time I would probably have said ‘maddest’, but it does rather feel like there’s some competition these days) seeks to present itself, and it how it sees the rest of us. This is sort-of funny for a few minutes, until it very much isn’t.
  • The Impact of Energy: A fascinating map, showing (not all, but lots of) the world’s countries and what the environmental impact of their energy usage is RIGHT NOW. This is using data sourced from a whole range of national energy companies and providers and as such as pretty legit, and takes into account domestic energy production (and whether it’s currently drawing from oil, gas or renewables) as well as imports and exports, and it makes for…occasionally sobering reading, particularly in a week when the scientists are once again getting The Fear, not least because of all the places where there’s no data at all and where, one suspects, the story isn’t…great. Also, as an aside, wtaf Poland?!
  • Metal Horse: Oh, ok, fine, ONE MORE TIKTOK. This belongs to a woman called Emily, who I think lives in Canada, and who owns a horse that really, really fcuking LOVES rock and metal – other music, not so much. You may not think that a video of a horse headbanging to Slipknot would be worth your time, but you would be WRONG. Apparently bands have started sending tracks to the horse to get its approval, which frankly is a degree of critical analysis that I think we can all agree is perfectly appropriate.

By Yuwei Tu



  • Record Club: I know, I know, the last thing anyone wants in the year of our Lord 2024 is ‘another social network’. Or, frankly, any social networks at all. Still, let’s not think of this as a social network – let’s instead think of it as, er, a record club! This is a new online community built by and for music enthusiasts as a place to hang out, chat about music, share recommendations and all that sort of jazz (lol) – crucially, it’s not trying to be a destination for listening, more a space for people to congregate around particular artists or songs or genres, and to find like-minded people who are also into the same sort of thing. Obviously this isn’t a wholly-new premise, and there are doubtless other places online that offer a similar sort of vibe (or which try to), but I rather like both the design and the feel of this – it’s in beta, but I was let in pretty quickly, and if you’re the sort of person who really likes talking about how much the B-side of ‘I Touch Myself’ meant to them as a kid (look, I’m not judging, it takes all sorts) then this may be your new online forever home. I think it reminds me a bit of ‘This Is My Jam’ (RIP, wiv da angles), which may be why I feel so warmly towards it.
  • Etymonline: OH GOD I LOVE THIS. How have I not seen it before? Evidently I am not spending enough time online. I have just checked out the FAQ page and I think this has been going since…2005ish? Anyway, it is OLD – Methuselan by modern web standards – and it is venerable, and it is a BRILLIANT resource for, er, etymology nerds. Are you the sort of person who really, really enjoys finding out the origin of terms like ‘macadam’ or ‘two-step’? GOOD ME TOO! Honestly, the fatigue is really starting to kick in now and it’s all I can do not to abandon you right here and just go to bed and send myself to sleep by going through the linguistic history of the verb ‘to eat’ – but I won’t, because I am DEDICATED and, also, I have compulsive issues which means that I wouldn’t be able to relax chiz chiz. Anyway, this is a genuinely wonderful resource, and as with so many things it’s mainly maintained by a single individual, who, honestly, is a fcuking hero. I can’t stress enough how wonderful I find these sorts of sites, useful and deep and PERSISTENT, and which exist solely because someone is interested and cares and believes it important that it SHOULD exist. It’s almost enough to make me like people, almost.
  • The London GreenGround Map: Another link from Rishi, this (buy his poems, they are great), and another which I am slightly upset I hadn’t known about previously. A piece of design by Helen Ilus, the London GreenGround Map is (roughly speaking) a sort of tube map analogue for the capital’s green spaces, mapping connections and routes between public parks and gardens and areas less blighted by urban sprawl, letting you plan routes that take you through the bits of the city that are yet to be tarmaced over. “An enthusiastic walker and urban explorer Helen travelled widely, studying and working in UK, before coming up with the idea of connecting parks to tube style network for walkers. Fan of Harry Beck’s London Tube map she wondered what would happen combining the schematic mapping with walking routes. As an intuitive traveller she found the schematic maps more accessible in urban environments, but realised they also trap people in transport networks. This is why her maps give priority to green infrastructure, replacing stations with parks and tube lines with walking routes. She has also experimented with creating a walking map for libraries as well as worked with several commissioned maps.” It’s free to download, and if I had access to a colour printer I would totally do a big copy of this and carry it with me – whether or not you want a physical copy, this is SUCH a good way to plan walks and routes, and if you live in London it’s worth looking for your local area and seeing if there are any nearby spaces that are new to you that you might want to explore over the coming few weeks before it gets cold and wet and grey again.
  • London Rent Prices Map: A sub-Page of the previously-featured Pint Prices page (mapping the price of a beer – which, by the way, I saw someone pay £EIGHT FCUKING QUID for a pint of neck oil  the other day, which is an awful lot to pay for beer that bad), this takes data from SpareRoom to map average per-room rental prices across the city. The values are colour-coded, so the lower end of the pricing scale is green while the higher end is red, but it’s important to remember that GREEN DOES NOT EQUAL CHEAP, because there is no cheap housing stock in this fcuking city and you can expect to shell out a minimum of about £800 for a room that is practically in Essex, let alone something on an actual tube line. If you’re looking for somewhere to live, this could actually be useful – you can click into specific areas, and then find individual links back to the SpareRoom listings, which might be helpful if you’re currently unlucky enough to find a new rental (I am sorry, good luck).
  • The Hacker News Map: A map! Of posts on Hacker News! Arranged thematically! You can search, or just zoom in and around – it’s actually a pretty decent search engine given the massive range of topics covered on the site over the years, and you can read a decent explanation of what it is, how it works and how you might use it on this blogpost by its creator Wilson Lin – it’s a surprisingly good way of finding interesting things, and for doing topic-based research (as long as you don’t mind it throwing up things from a few years back), and is a generally interesting place to spend a bit of time digging around.
  • The Water Drinkers: I think I featured a piece on here a few years ago about the weird world of hydration YouTube, where people, mainly young men, would post videos showing them drinking water, performatively chugging a bottle of Evian or whatever, again and again, day after day, maintaining ‘hydration streaks’ (surely, you know, a prerequisite for being alive?) and generally building a small, weird, niche, but dedicated, audience of hydration fans – this link takes you to a spreadsheet listing some of the top water drinkers, how many days their ‘streaks’ have been going, that sort of thing. The person at the top of this leaderboard has been filming themselves drinking water and posting the footage to the web for (at the time of writing) a total of 4541 days, which is a degree of obsessional, and quite possibly deeply-psychologically-unhealthy, dedication to which I can very much empathise.
  • Abandoned Blogs: Via Kris, this is an Are.na board collecting blogs that have been left dormant by their owners. This is INCREDIBLE, a series of windows not only into the past, but into the specific pasts of specific strangers – the blogs collected here (there are over 100 I think) run the gamut from the personal to the obsessional, covering fashion and music and food and ‘just, you know, LIFE’, and there is so much here to explore and enjoy. Some of these will have been abandoned through lack of interest of a loss of focus or simply time and change and, you know, growing up, and some will have been left because their owners don’t exist anymore, and wandering through these is…I wanted to type that it was like wandering through a graveyard, but that makes it sound sad and elegiac in a way that this isn’t. It’s more like walking down a street where all the houses are empty but perfectly-preserved, able to step through any door you choose and explore what was left by whoever once owned it, and it is BEAUTIFUL. I really need to look into forever hosting for Web Curios – given I am never going to procreate, this fcuker is my SOLE LEGACY (literally the saddest line I have ever written, that) and I’m fcuked if I’m letting it decay when I finally manage to get off this mortal coil.
  • Weathersight: Self-describing as ‘tools for data-driven climate journalism’, this is basically a resource that seeks to make weather datasets more easily readable and accessible – genuinely useful for anyone who is involved in researching or looking into all of the various interesting and awful ways we’re fcuking the planet and, by happy extension, ourselves!
  • Tiny Dogs: One of the rare occasions when I feature a commercial endeavour in Curios – but, honestly, it is SO CHARMING that I couldn’t leave it out, even if it is something you have to pay for. Do you have a dog? Would you like to have a tiny version of said dog? A tiny version crafted out of felt? Which looks EXACTLY LIKE YOUR BELOVED HOUND? YES YOU WOULD! Hence Tiny Dogs – this person is based in Austria, and if you send them a photo of your dog they will send you a quote to have it ‘tinified’ – effectively rendered in miniature using what are probably some really quite impressive crafting techniques. Look, I am very much not a dog person – they smell, and you have to take care of them, and having dealt with two terminally ill, bedbound family members already in my short life I’m done with that thankyouverymuchindeed – but these are SO CUTE, and, honestly, if someone you love has a SPECIAL BOY (or girl) of the four-legged variety I can think of few nicer (if unspeakably–twee) gifts for them than this. I also very much enjoyed the short, one-word answer to the ‘Do You Do Cats As Well?’ FAQ (“No”).
  • AI Recruiting: Do any of you work in Human Resources/Recruitment? If so, you might want to skip this next bit. Gone? Good. YOUR DAYS ARE SO NUMBERED! This is a slightly-chilling service, selling itself as a one-stop-solution for (specifically) tech recruitment, which claims that it basically does EVERYTHING automatically – CV vetting, task-setting, interviewing, interview assessment…all managed by The Machine, with the magical, unknowable Black Box deciding who the optimal candidates are without a human ever needing to be involved in the process, undercutting recruitment agencies or headhunters by a purported 80%. “What about bias?”, I hear you cry, “And what about the fact that the process is entirely inscrutable?”. “WHO CARES?”, responds the software company, firing up the AI and effectively putting Randstadt out of business.
  • Books About Food: This is a site made by two guys in London which is designed to be a hub for people – authors and those on the publishing / design side – who are involved in the business of writing about food, a site where they can showcase their work and promote their projects, and it works as a really useful directory of ‘people in food in the UK’. If you are after food writers or stylists or photographers or designers in this space, this feels like a hugely-helpful place to start doing your research; you can focus in on a specific author and see, for example, who art-directed their cookbook, or find inspirations for brand collabs, or find potential recipe writers for a commercial project… If you work in UK food publishing, or foodie advermarketingpr, this is GREAT.
  • Motown Junkies: A proper old-school blog, this: “a track-by-track review of every US and UK Motown single, including all subsidiaries. Not ambitious, then…I’m Nixon, and I’m British. I love music in almost all its forms, and I love Motown…Here’s how this will work. I’m going to do a separate post for every released (or planned) A- and B-side, and these will then be compiled both on the pages for each label, and also in the Master Index, which is just a great big list of everything that’s been posted to date. Unless otherwise noted, for the stuff between 1959 and 1972, I’ve treated the liner notes in the Complete Motown Singles box sets as the Word of God, and will only be dissenting from the officially-sanctioned “party line” where I think it’s important to do so (and noting the conflict). I’ll also provide external links to any information out there which I’ve taken note of, or which might provide useful further reading.” This is excellent, a proper labour of love, and a wonderful way of finding some genuinely brilliant music.
  • Snail Is Inevitable: This is very silly, and also feels like something that you could iterate on in a variety of fun ways. “A snail relentlessly follows your cursor. There’s a fun hypothetical that asks if you would accept the following conditions: you get ten million dollars, but a snail follows you for the rest of your life, and if it ever touches you, then you die. Naturally, I took this hypothetical and made it into a chrome extension (the “snail that follows your cursor” part, not the “getting ten million dollars” part, though you are free to pretend this is the case). Once you press the “start” button on the extension’s popup page, a snail (shoutout Slay the Spire) will invisibly start tracking your cursor’s position. It moves very slowly, but it is always moving. If it touches you, then you die (get a blue screen of death popup).” I installed this earlier this week and it has added a pleasing note of existential angst to my browsing experience, which, fine, may not be what you’re after from a link, but LIVE A LITTLE FFS.
  • Tranquil Words: I enjoyed this. Tranquil Words presents a blank screen on which you type whatever you want – but the words are invisible, unless you choose to reveal them or send the output to yourself via email. Whether you’re interested in practising free writing – you know, that stream of consciousness unblocking technique that a certain subset of ‘creative’ people swear by – or just use it as a secret way to write all sorts of invective about your colleagues or flatmates while they are RIGHT THERE, I very much like the unfettered ‘type your id into the void’-ness of it all.
  • Other Orders: Code which lets you play with text in interesting ways, taking words and rearranging and reordering them in different ways based on different rulesets. Which I appreciate may not make much sense, but will do when you click, I promise. Not practically useful for anything I can immediately think of, but potentially fun from the point of view of experimental writing (or, actually, doing interesting/oblique interrogations of a corpus or single text, which could be useful now I come to think of it). If you’re a very particular type of wordw4nker there’s something interesting/whimsical/romantic you could do with your collected correspondence with a lover here, I think.
  • Courtesy Vulture: Gah, ANOTHER TIKTOK (sorry) – but this is SO GOOD. Stop-motion animation in the ‘weird, and a bit gross’ category, which reminds me, vibe-wise, of Salad Fingers in the best possible way. If you click the link, the first vid on the page is a compilation of previous episodes (each tends to be about 30s long), which will get you nicely up-to-speed (insofar as this makes anything resembling ‘sense’). Aside from anything else this is technically really impressive, props to whoever’s behind it.
  • Dhime: It will almost certainly come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I cannot dance for sh1t – I am largely arrhythmic, afflicted with the ‘dancing white man’s overbite’, and frankly far too tall and thin for my efforts to look like anything other than a collection of coat hangers having an epileptic fit. Still, maybe this will CHANGE MY LIFE – Dhime is a really interesting idea, using AI to teach you how to dance. The deal is that you watch videos of dance routines, then set your phone up to film you attempting to replicate the moves – The Machine then analyses your movements and attempts to work out how similar or otherwise you were to the ideal, and then offer you feedback to improve your spastic flailings. Whether this works I have no idea, and will never, ever find out, but if you’re someone who really wants to nail whatever the current TikTok fad is then a) why are you reading this newsletter? It seems frankly incongruous; and b) this might help.
  • Perfect Pitch: Last up in this section, ANOTHER GAME! Listen to the notes, attempt to map them to the correct keys on a keyboard, and if you’re anything like me realise that you really are tone-deaf to a spectacular degree. This is, honestly, fun, even if you are really, terribly bad at it.

By Chang Ya Chin



  • Computers on Law & Order: Why would someone spend some of the finite time on Earth bestowed upon them by a strange and unknowable force compiling photographs of computer equipment being used in the Law & Order TV universe and posting them to a Tumblr? I genuinely cannot begin to imagine, but someone out there has chosen to do so, and, well, who am I to cast aspersions?


  • Manu Kant: Specifically, SEXY, YOUNG, AI IMMANUEL KANT! No, really, look at his cheekbones! FEEL THE WEIGHT OF HIS SMOULDERING CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE (little Kantian joke for the heads out there)! This was a short-lived art project that, for reasons I can’t adequately explain (despite the writeup here), decided to present selected bits of Kant’s thinking as though they were coming from the mind, and mouth, of a VERY PRETTY 24 year old influencer called Manu Kant. Isn’t he gorgeous? And SO DEEP!
  • The E-Ink Cam: Another Krislink, the E-Ink Cam is a wonderful project, describes by its creator, Kaloyan Kolev, as follows: “eink.cam is a lo-fi digital camera with a tiny energy footprint that makes charming dithered pictures. I like to describe it as a “digital polaroid.” eInk (or ePaper) is an alternative display technology that uses physical ink particles to produce images. eInk displays are much more power efficient and legible in sunlight in comparison to LCD screens, but suffer from slow refresh times and limited color reproduction. While these limitations will be overcome as the tech develops, they also give it an undeniable charm. The images on eink.cam look futuristic and retro at the same time.” I would imagine if they ever chose to make this a purchasable product they would be INUNDATED with orders – I barely ever take photos of anything, and even I want one of these immoderately.
  • John Pork: Who is John Pork? Why, he’s a virtual influencer with the head of a pig! What a silly question! I honestly have no fcuking idea about this one AT ALL.


  • Under the Jumbotron: Apologies for starting this week with yet more about student protests, but this, published this week in the LRB, is an excellent piece of writing which also gave me far more detail about some of the things happening at some US Universities than I’ve seen in other reporting. Quite hard to read this and not think that…this really isn’t a rational or reasonable response to people expressing their displeasure at the actions of their government and the support being afforded to said actions by their academic institutions: “Over the weekend, following the formation of the encampment, a large group of counter-protesters, few to none of whom appeared to be UCLA students, arrived on campus. They screamed, hurled racial slurs and sexual threats (‘I hope you get raped’) at the students, and opened a sack full of live mice – swollen, seemingly injected with some substance – on the ground near the camp. When the counter-protesters dispersed, they left behind a Jumbotron – a massive flat-screen TV, about ten feet high – in the middle of campus facing the encampment and surrounded by metal barriers. Paid security guards remained inside the barriers to protect the screen. For the next five days, the Jumbotron played, on a loop, footage of the 7 October attacks along with audio clips describing rape and sexual violence in explicit terms. Mixed in among the clips were speeches by Joe Biden vowing unconditional support for Israel and ‘Meni Mamtera’, a maddeningly repetitive children’s song that went viral earlier this year when IDF soldiers posted a video of themselves using it as a form of noise torture on captive Palestinians.” Meanwhile, tower blocks continue to be dropped on families while significant swathes of the world’s political and media classes seem unwilling to acknowledge what is quite clearly happening to some very, very unfortunate people, and what has been for months.
  • Liberalism Without Accountability: I know I said I wasn’t going to ‘do’ the Middle East here, way back in October 2023, but it does rather feel like it’s not OK to ignore it. Per this companion piece, also from the LRB, “universities reliant on investment portfolios in a system where mega-profits are made by companies that threaten and destroy human life, influenced by an increasingly radicalised class of billionaires, teaching students whose degrees won’t earn them enough to pay off their loans, managed by supine administrators threatened by (or willingly collaborating with) a reactionary right, who have decided that young people’s minds are being turned against capitalism not by their own lived experience of austerity and racialised police violence but by ‘woke Marxist professors’. This situation has now met with a live-streamed genocide which is supported, and brazenly lied about, by political leaders and commentators who claim to stand for truth and justice. Students, like much of the public, cannot square the reality of what they see with the world as constructed by politicians and the media. Under such circumstances, pitching tents, raising placards and demanding divestment are really quite mild-mannered responses. That they have been met, in many US universities, with militarised policing reflects the fragility of liberalism – in the face of the growing hegemony of the conservative right as well as its own inability to offer a future even to Ivy League college students, let alone the less privileged. There is a refusal by liberals to accept accountability for the world they have created, through their support for wars in the Middle East, their acceptance of growing inequality and poverty, cuts to public services, glacial action on climate change and failure to create secure and meaningful jobs.”
  • How The OpenAI Model Works: Well, sort-of, ish. This is one for those of you who care about the nuts and bolts of The Machine, and how it’s guardrailed – it’s a blogpost by OpenAI in which the company sets out the ‘desired behaviour guidelines’ and outlines what they term the ‘Model Spec’ which is effectively their ‘ur-guide’ to how they think about deploying AI safely and responsibly. I personally found this super-interesting, from a rules/systems/ethics point of view, but your mileage may vary here, I concede.
  • The Return of the Homepage: Kyle Chayka in the New Yorker writes about the growing trend in digital publishing to reprioritise the HomePage as a direct-traffic destination, and the ideas and design principles that motivate that trend. I am obviously very much behind this as an idea, mainly as it reflects the way that I personally like to use the web (nothing a middle-aged man likes to read more than a piece in an international magazine which reinforces the belief that he is right and that the world is finally coming around to his way of thinking!): “Perhaps the platform era caused us to lose track of what a Web site was for. The good ones are places you might turn to several times per day or per week for a select batch of content that pointedly is not everything. Going there regularly is a signal of intention and loyalty: instead of passively waiting for social feeds to serve you what to read, you can seek out reading materials—or videos or audio—from sources you trust. If Twitter was once a sprawling Home Depot of content, going to specific sites is more like shopping from a series of specialized boutiques.”
  • The GoogleTrafficPocalypse Part 2: You may recall that a few months ago I shared a blogpost by a website called HouseFresh, all about how Google updates had basically tanked its traffic, and hence its revenue, and put its existence in jeopardy – this is a followup post by the same site, outlining the response to the initial post, their efforts to reclaim their search ranking and traffic, and the dawning realisation that it might not be possible and the era of ‘traffic to specific niche verticals via search referral’ might in fact be over. This is…not cheering reading if you’re a publisher, particularly not if you’re a small one, but does rather feed into the idea espoused in the previous piece, that audience is more important than traffic, and building the former is a hedge against the death of the latter.
  • Proof of the Tradwife-To-Fash Pipeline: Regular readers will be aware that one of my long-running obsessions has been the insidious creep of Conservative, ‘traditionalist’ values, promoted via social media and acting as a Trojan Horse for all sorts of other less-savoury ideas and ideals, all bankrolled by some Bad People (copyright Mark Menzies) with a view to SHAPING THE GLOBAL DISCOURSE – regular readers will also, in all likelihood, started to roll their eyes every time I mention Peter Thiel (SORRY!) or a creepy cabal of very rich people who are using this stuff as a way of entrenching their position and their worldview in the face of a progressive wave. WELL NOW I HAVE PROOF SO IN YOUR FACES. Ahem. Actually it’s Media Matters that has proof, but this investigation does a nice job of demonstrating that there is a very clear throughline between ‘watching videos of attractive people living a lifestyle out of rural 50s America’ and ‘watching videos about how the gays and the wokes and the browns are ruining everything’. “After we interacted with tradwife content, TikTok’s recommendation algorithm began flooding our FYP with right-wing conspiracy theory content.Our FYP also began displaying medical misinformation and anti-government content, specifically fearmongering about the need to prepare for an impending “civil war.” Of the 327 videos served to the “For You” page in Media Matters’ analysis, 100 (or 30.6%) contained conspiracy theories or apocalyptic fearmongering. After we interacted with tradwife content, TikTok’s recommendation algorithm began flooding our FYP with right-wing conspiracy theory content. Our FYP also began displaying medical misinformation and anti-government content, specifically fearmongering about the need to prepare for an impending “civil war.” Of the 327 videos served to the “For You” page in Media Matters’ analysis, 100 (or 30.6%) contained conspiracy theories or apocalyptic fearmongering.” So there.
  • Reading What Musk Posts: There have been times over the past year or so when for Professional Reasons I have had to read a significant amount of Musk’s social media output, and it is HORRIBLE – as Tim Murphy, writing for MotherJones, discovered when he did the same for a whole week. This won’t tell you anything you don’t know about where Musk’s politics seem to have ended up (or at least it won’t if you’ve been paying attention, which I concede you might not have been because, well, life is short, and maybe you have friends and families and loved ones to be with or something), but it does give you a decent overview of how genuinely fcuking unhinged some of the stuff the world’s richest – and in some important senses, most influential – man thinks is. Still, if you were ever confused as to exactly HOW the ‘woke mind virus’ is goint to destroy humanity, Elon’s explanation can be found herein (I’ll save you the click, just in case): “Imagine if instead of merely rendering forced ‘diverse’ images it decided to make that true in reality, potentially killing millions of people to achieve diversity goals.” I mean, IMAGINE. Jesus fcuking Christ.
  • The Future of Political Campaigning (Thanks To AI): The name Brad Parscale possibly rings a bell to some of you – he was Trump’s digital campaign manager in 2016, and he’s now going ALL-IN on AI to secure the great leaders of tomorrow! None of this will be surprising to anyone who’s spent any time thinking about the potential implications of this stuff, and it’s important to note that people like Parscale (see also: Alexander Nix! Remember that cnut?) are ALWAYS going to exaggerate the efficacy and impact of their techniques, particularly when tech is involved, and also there’s no extant data about whether this stuff moves the needle in any meaningful way, but, equally, read this and try and feel like this is going to be A Good Thing: “Parscale has said Campaign Nucleus can send voters customized emails and use data analytics to predict voters’ feelings. The platform can also amplify “anti-woke” influencers who have large followings on social media, according to his company’s documents and videos. Parscale said his company also can use artificial intelligence to create “stunning web pages in seconds” that produce content that looks like a media outlet, according to a presentation he gave last month at a political conference, where he was not advertised in advance as a speaker. “Empower your team to create their own news,” said another slide, according to the presentation viewed by AP.” This, plus that horrible AI-generated content farm up the top in link 3, equals…probably not great things tbh.
  • How To Play A Game: I really, really enjoyed this essay, by Frank Lantz, all about the question of ‘knowing’ and ‘understanding’ and to what extent AI can be said to do either, and how we might determine when that particular rubicon has been crossed, all through the lens of ‘how we play games, and what we mean when we say that ‘we’ are ‘playing’. This is just a really nice bit of ‘thinking through a series of ideas’, done really well and explained in admirably-clear fashion.
  • Meet My AI Friends: One of a spate of pieces this week in which journalists explore the idea of ‘digital companions’ and the extent to which people are already using them as virtual conversation partners, confidantes and the rest. This first one is by Kevin Roose, who spends a week with a variety of different bots by different platforms, all set up to do slightly different things…and finds himself not quite as repelled by the experience as he expected (but, equally, doesn’t at any point give the impression that he’s going to carry on using any of them beyond the period it took him to research the arcticle). This, by contrast, is the WSJ on how AI bots can be potentially useful as a way to practice difficult conversations – which, personally-speaking, strikes me as fcuking bullshit, given that all the major models can raise their register to, at most, a tone of mild irritation which I don’t think necessarily maps to the real-world experience of, I don’t know, telling your husband you’ve been boning the gardener for a year. Finally there’s this one, in The Verge, with the inevitable ‘the teens are talking to the robots!’ scare-take (it’s actually not that fearmonger-y, in its defense), which makes the point that Character.ai is…pretty popular with kids, and there must be a reason for that. Each of these takes a slightly different perspective, but it’s interesting that there’s now a certain sort of sense of inevitability about the fact that ‘talking to The Machine’ (or, more accurately, A machine) is going to be A Thing, which feels…accurate, given the likelihood that this stuff is going to be baked into everything as soon as it passes a (relatively-low) threshold of ‘good enough’.
  • Money Dysmorphia: Or, ‘how TikTok and the strange whiplash of consumerist and doomerist content, is causing no little cognitive dissonance’ (fine, their title is pithier). None of this is new per se – being presented with images of a lifestyle that is presented as attainable but is in fact really not attainable for you at all, ever, is something that’s as old as consumer culture and capitalism, after all – but I find the acceleration of it via TikTok (not just TikTok, to be clear, but let’s use that as an analogue for the always-on, fullscreen video onslaught of THE NOW) an interesting wrinkle. I have mentioned this a few times over the years in here, but it once again brought to mind Emile Durkheim’s concept of ‘anomie’, which can be characterised as ‘the gap between what an individual is told they can expect from life by society and what is actually available or achievable to them’; the larger the gap, the greater the degree of social dysfunction. Just saying.
  • When The Yanks Came For Soccer: As a Chelsea fan (yes, I know, but my dad lives literally 5 mins from Stamford Bridge and I went to all the home games for about 5 years when we were REALLY SH1T, so I think it’s entitled) I felt this one very personally indeed – this is the New York Times looking at the influx of US ownership into UK football and how it’s being received (badly) and whether they care (no) and why that is (money). The whole piece is worth reading, but I’ll leave you with the closing quote which honestly encapsulates the views within pretty much perfectly: ““Our fans are like, ‘We like tradition,’” Edens said. “And I tell them: ‘No, you don’t. You think you do, but you don’t.’ I mean, who doesn’t like a big-screen TV with plenty of food and beer?” Then he spread his arms wide and answered his own question: “Nobody.””
  • How Pokemon Players Are Messing With Maps: This is quite a small story, but it falls under one of my favourite subheadings – to whit, ‘ways in which digital stuff bleeds into the physical world and has strange repercussions that noone could reasonably have foreseen’. In this instance it’s about Pokemon GO! players who are fcuking up the open source mapping community by altering map data so as to increase the chances of generating in-game spawns of certain monsters (because the game uses OpenMaps for its terrain data). Perfect ‘weird future’ story, this one.
  • A History of Videogame Controllers: Honestly, if you have ever played videogames or if you work in product design, or interaction design, or UX, this is FASCINATING – this piece takes you through the evolution of the game interface, from the esoteric dials and knobs of the earliest consoles in the 70s and 80s, through the the glorious era of microswitches in the 1980s, to the incredibly-designed controllers ushered in by the PlayStation and XBox. Very geeky, fine, but it’s design and so probably just about socially acceptable.
  • The Contestant: This is a lovely little article/interview, about a story you may recall from the distant past. “Naked, alone in a tiny room in Japan, Nasubi had one way to survive: submit entries for sweepstakes. For 15 months beginning in 1998, Nasubi lived in isolation, entering sweepstakes to win food, clothing and other items, while his movements were captured on camera for the wildly popular Japanese reality TV show, “Susunu! Denpa Shonen.” A 22-year-old aspiring comedian, Nasubi had willingly entered this reality TV challenge, a segment titled “A Life in Prizes,” thinking that footage would be recorded and possibly aired after it was over. In actuality, he was being broadcast to millions of viewers across Japan every week.” Oddly-heartwarming.
  • Videogame Clouds: No, wait, come back! This is, I promise, SO CUTE and also really interesting – for Eurogamer, Christian Donlan goes to talk to the founder of the UK Cloud Appreciation Society about the depiction of clouds in videogames, and it turns into a genuinely wonderful article about clouds and games and what and why we find things interesting, and about how two people can find a degree of shared interest and commonality in unexpected places. If nothing else you will be CHARMED by Mr Cloud himself, Gavin Pretor-Pinney, and the frankly BOUNDLESS enthusiasm he displays for cumulostratus and the like (this piece contains significantly more excited swearing than I was expecting, put it that way).
  • Brains As Food: A history of people eating brains – I adored this from a ‘writing about food’ point of view, and the history (and some of the recipes!) are fascinating, but, equally, the part of me that really struggles with corporeality and being made of meat found it an intensely-uncomfortable read and I was very, very conscious of my brain sitting inbetween my ears, heavy and just sort of *there*, as I read. See how you get on – you may be less discomfited by the general idea of ‘having a body’ than I seem to be these days.
  • Gmail As A Diary: A selection of writers look back at their old emails, as Gmail marks its second decade. I loved this, partly because I’ve long had an occasional habit of picking a date in the past and going back into Gmail and seeing what I was doing and who I was writing to, and what I was thinking, and if you have the opportunity I promise you that you will want to do the same after reading this (I just dropped into 2004 and found someone on Pobitch who sent me an mp3 of ‘The Other Cheek’ by Tanya Stevens (thankyou, mysterious neverundersold@gmail.com!) – God, I have always loved the web.
  • Failed Attempts at Human Flight: This is fascinating, very funny, and will make you wince more often than I care to mention – this is by Joe Fassler, who’s written a whole book on the topic but here pulls out the highlights of all the times in the past when people hurled themselves off tall structures in the hope of magically taking to the skies. Unsurprisingly, this is an account littered with painfully-splintered shins, punctured organs and death – it’s occasionally sobering to take a moment to think about how much of what we currently enjoy is built upon what I can only characterise as a pyramid of corpses going back through history (like eating mushrooms), so, er, maybe don’t think about it too hard.
  • How The Cabbage Patch Kids Are Born: I have, I am aware, featured a piece about the Cabbage Patch Factory in here before, but as far as I recall it didn’t go into detail about, er, how the dolls are ‘born’. This one does. It is FCUKING WEIRD.
  • The Battle For Attention: I started this piece thinking it was going to be about advermarketingpr, or selling things to people, and I was prepared to abandon it after a few paragraphs and then it turned into something completely other and I realised it is BRILLIANT. I don’t want to spoil this for you, but about ⅓ of the way through the author learns something that pretty much totally changes the direction of the piece and it becomes SO much more interesting. Look, er, if anyone reading this happens to know any more about the organisation here described, fancy getting in touch?
  • The Last Thing My Mother Wanted: I thought this was an astonishing piece of writing, but it’s worth pointing out that it is about quite a lot of Hard Things – bad parenting and trauma and death and suicide and and and. Still, I found it beautiful, but be aware that it deals with ISSUES.
  • The Feast of St John: Finally this week, the now-obligatory link to an article in The Fence – this one is about the author’s stint doing a stage at London restaurant St John, famed for its ‘eat the whole animal’ style of cooking and where work involves a LOT of viscera. I know St John well – for a few years I worked in the building directly next door, and would pop down and get fresh doughnuts from the bar for elevenses – and this is not only a wonderful piece of writing about food and cookery but also about place. I have no real regrets in life, but I genuinely wish that rather than going to university and ending up some fcuking advermarketingprwebmong I had gone into cookery instead – I would have been good, I think. Oh well, next life (lol).

By Andrew Brischler